January 18, 2018

By Brian Sampson

Dribbling the ball up the court, Dennis Schroder surveys the defense for a crack in its armor, needing only the tiniest sliver to exploit to get inside for two points.

As he nears the half-court line, he slows into an innocent trot, lulling Elfrid Peyton into a false sense of security before hitting him with a nasty hesitation dribble. Another dribble towards the rim, this time hard and with evil intent, gets Nikola Vucevic back on his heels.

Schroder, however, loosens up for a moment, appearing dissatisfied with his path to the rim. The brief downshift in speed brings Vucevic out of his stance, relaxed for a moment. Then, quick as lightning, Schroder shoots the gap at such speed, no one is able to react until he’s at the rim, laying the ball in the hoop.

The omni-attacking, hesitation-artist has been a one-man wrecking for the hapless Atlanta Hawks this season. Despite a rebuild landing the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals for the foreseeable future, they appear to have someone to build around.

Schroder is scoring at a career rate (22.7 points per 36 minutes), turning the ball over at a career-low (2.9 turnovers per 36) and setting up his teammates at his career-average (7.2 assists per 36 minutes), despite the lack of talent surrounding him.

His development into an All-Star caliber player has been nothing short of amazing, especially considering he’s the only true scoring threat on the roster and the man teams primarily game plan against. And it all comes down to his ability to get deep into the lane and wreak havoc.

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His quick first step allows him to get into the paint at will and disrupts the defense’s strategies in a hurry:

The fifth-year player is primarily right-hand dominant. Despite the defense knowing which way he’s likely to attack, it hasn’t stopped him from finding success this season. After coming off a ball screen, Schroder finds Blake Griffin standing between himself and an easy layup. Just as the textbook says, he attacks Griffin’s outside shoulder, which forces him to open up his feet on the slide to avoid fouling. The Hawks’ point guard continues gathering speed and flying down-hill for the bunny, as it appears Griffin’s new shoe is a cement block.

This isn’t a rarity for the point guard who averages the most drives in the league at 19.3. However, it’s not just the quantity, it’s the quality of the dribble penetration that matters, and Dennis Schroder is one of the best. Of players who drive at least 10 times per game, Schroder is first in points scored (10.8) and 15th in points percentage (56.1). Ahead of him, you’ll find freak athletes such as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons, or All-Star point guards the likes of John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Mike Conley.

Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer does a terrific job of scheming to create ample room for his star player, often calling a play designed for Schroder to Iverson cut across the floor and into open space:

The Iverson cut allows a player to cut across the width of the floor using two off-ball screens from his teammates. The ball-handler at the top of the key then hits the cutter as soon as he comes off the second screen. Meanwhile, the fifth offensive player is stationed in the weakside corner, creating an optimal space for the guard to attack:

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Once Schroder catches the ball, his man is sprinting behind him to get in position. If the opposing big man doesn’t help, Schroder is likely to get a layup. But, if the opposing big man helps on the screen like he’s supposed to, Schroder is still likely to get a layup. It’s a win-win situation for the offense.

His success at attacking the rim is all set up due to his elite first step. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as he’s learned how to use this advantage to put his defender on a string and control him like a puppet.

Once he hits the D with the blow-by, he then uses the hesitation dribble to lull them into a false sense of security:

After the big switches onto Schroder, he leans upright during his dribble acting as if he’s going to launch from the top of the key. This also causes the defender to come out of his stance and raise his hand high in the air to contest the shot that never comes. This momentary lapse is all he needs before blasting out of a cannon and laying a high-arching shot off the glass.

Once he’s unleashed the hesi, the pull-up ‘J’ is the next move in his arsenal.

Coming into this season, he’s never shot above 39 percent on attempts between 10 and 16 feet. In another example of his development, he’s knocking down a scorching 56.4 percent of those shots. Most of these come off the dribble where he’s connecting on 45.9 percent of all pull-ups. This nets him 8.0 points per game, tied with Stephen Curry for seventh in the league.

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Someone with the speed of Schroder and the ability to stop on a dime to nail a bucket off the bounce is teetering on unguardable. And with a little more fine-tuning, that’s exactly where he might find himself:

With James, one of the best defenders in NBA history, guarding him, Schroder must unleash a trick so vile, no one will expect it. Once he takes off toward the hoop, the King immediately turns and slides parallel with him and they both know he will likely have the advantage should the play carry all the way to the rim. The point guard then stops at the elbow and quickly pops the jumper in James’ face.

At 24 years old, this is just the beginning for the 2013 first round pick. Every year he’s gotten better and better, and with him still being a few years from his prime, his peak is yet to come.

Budenholzer has shown a propensity for putting his players in positions to succeed. And with Atlanta sure to have a top-five draft pick this summer, the future of the Hawks may be bright. It’ll just take a few years to get there.

Until then, however, one lightning-quick drive after another, Dennis Schroder will continue to strike deep into the lane—and the heart of his opponents.

 

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